The elections in Sweden indicate that populism in Europe is continually rising and such trend is not good for maintaining democracy because the voice from minority groups are neglected from the agenda setting and policymaking, while only the majority elites control government and are eligible to make decisions to influence the whole country. Also, such power distribution also creates polarization that generates divisions among social and ethnical groups that separate the country and cause domestic group conflicts. However, PR might be an effective way of stopping such a rise of populism and polarization because it expands more space for the minority to speak and prevents single ethnicity or class group from having absolute control of the government.
Minority rights are diminished and threatened by the leading force of populism, and it is detrimental for democracy. Sisk argues that “In many contexts, minority rights are particularly threatened in such polarized societies, as populism of the Left or Right and new nativist tendencies undermine internationally validated rights about minorities, migrants, and other vulnerable populations.” The form of populism is a threat to democracy because the power distribution is unequal between ordinary people and elites and such distribution is also apply to authoritarianism. Also, from the view of Sisk about the election in Sweden, Sweden government also has the polarization of party that only a single party hold the majority vote that represents specific one social and ethnic group and the electoral process is predictable. Therefore, not only the ordinary people lost their voice of having a discussion about domestic policies with the elite, but also the minority groups’ needs are off the agenda as well. Such unequal right leads the polity of Sweden to authoritarianism that only the elites are eligible to make policies while others’ political participation is diminished along with elite control.
The neglect of ordinary people’s political participation is only the start of the story for democracy backsliding. Furthermore, such elite control is also leading to domestic conflict among ethnic groups. From the findings of the US 2016 presidential election shows that the presidency is won in a campaign strategy featuring explicit and impolitic ethnonationalist appeals. The racial division is enlarged through having populism and it is problematic. In the study of polarization, Greene argues that people are in nature of ethnocentrism and they are likely to generate prejudice, which believes people within the group and being skeptical to the outgroup members. In that sense, democracy integrates people in different groups by promising that they have the same rights to speak for themselves and their groups. However, with democracy backsliding having single ethnic group representation, such ethnic or group division will become larger and more separate, and by the time with the problem unsolved, the grievance of other groups toward the leading group will become more and finally leads to conflict or even coup.
Electoral system matters a lot for democracy because it allows people to speak for themselves and participate in the policymaking process and having a suitable electoral system that can present all citizens in different categories is important. Proportional representation system seeks to match vote share to seat share, and it might be the key to manage political populism and polarization. Sartori mentions that having a democratic electoral system is crucial for having all citizens to have equal political participation. As Sisk mention about the advantage of PR system and how does it apply to democracy, “without grossly oversimplifying complex literature, there remain good reasons to consider overall proportionality, and thus some form of PR, for electoral systems in giving ‘voice’ to political extremism.” For example, In the Netherlands, proportional representation contributes to managing the social pressures and associated grievances which populist extremist exploit in March 2017 elections. However, it doesn’t mean that the PR system can solve the problem of populism at all. There are still problems exist about populism that remains a threat to democracy such as India election that in 2014, the BJP won 282 seats in the Lok Sabha, the largest majority commanded by a single party in 30 years… a reflection of the popularity of its leader Modi, who became Prime Minister, and who will be seeking reelection this year.
Consequently, through the lens of the election of Sweden, populism, and polarization is a threat to democracy by diminishing minority people’s political participation and only a specific social or ethnic group take control over the society and set the agenda. Some scholars argue that PR might be the solution to deal with the negative effects of populism and help minority people to gain their political rights again. However, the effectiveness remains as a question that some countries even have a PR system but still facing populism in their elections.
Greene, Joshua. 2013. Moral Tribes: Emotion, Reason, and the Gap Between Us and Them. New York: The Penguin Press. Introduction and Part 1.
Suri, Manveena, and Swati Gupta. “India Election 2019: The Key Statistics.” CNN, Cable News Network, 11 Mar. 2019, www.cnn.com/2019/02/16/asia/india-election-numbers-intl/index.html.
Sartori, Giovanni. Political Development and Political Engineering. Indiana University, 1967.